ESPECIALLY ON SUNDAY (LA DOMENICA SPECIALMENTE) *** 1/4. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, Giuseppe Bertolucci, Marco Tullio Giordana. Written by Tonino Guerra. Music, Ennio Morricone. Cast: Philippe Noiret, Ornella Muti, Maria Maddalena Fellini, Bruno Ganz, Andrea Prodan, et al. An Italian-French-Belgian production released by Miramax. In Italian with subtitles. 86 minutes. Not rated.
It took me an hour and a half to see this film, and two hours and a magnifying glass to locate its setting. If the movie does nothing else for you it should send you for a drive through the magnificent Marecchia Valley if you're ever in Italy. It is at most 30 miles west of Rimini, which itself is on the Adriatic, and next to San Marino. The irony for me is that the Marecchia is also close to Pesaro, a city where I have often been for its excellent film festivals.
So much for National Geographic. Now about the movie proper -- although "proper" is an inexact term, since the locales are so much part of the film.
"Especially on Sunday" is a picture of three loosely connected episodes, all written by Tonino Guerra, the prolific scenarist for many top Italian directors as well as non-Italians like the Greek Angelopoulos or the Russian Tarkovsky. Each episode, however, has a different director.
"The Blue Dog" is directed by Giuseppe Tornatore of "Cinema Paradiso" fame. As in that film, he employs French star Philippe Noiret. He is a village barber plus cobbler called Amleto (i.e. Hamlet!) and lives alone. A mongrel (the Blue Dog) appears, dogs each step of canine-hating Amleto and hounds him -- even to a Sunday Mass at a nearby city. But when someone takes a shot at the beastie and it disappears, Amleto, propelled by irresistible and mysterious feelings goes over hill and dale looking for it. His obsession gives him Felliniesque visions of a pack of dogs and makes him imagine that he hears the Blue Dog yelping.
There is more than quadruped cuteness or a shaggy dog story to this episode. With humor and occasional pathos, with realism, mild surrealism and un-Latin understatement, a small allegory on human and animal loneliness develops.
The dog's name come from three improbable markings on his forehead, so blue that they look as if applied by the hand of man. Trying to describe those spots Amleto says "They're like Gorbachev's. But on a more serious level, I wonder whether the main spot, a triangle, is not a reference to the different triangles that the Nazis pinned on extermination camps inmates, Jews, gays, Communists and so on. After all, the dog is a pariah, unwanted and persecuted.
"Especially on Sunday" is directed by Giuseppe Bertolucci, often the collaborator, scriptwriter and producer of his more famous brother Bernardo, and a director in his own right. On a sunny day, Vittorio (Bruno Ganz), a German, is driving his Mercedes convertible to the house of his late, Italian optometrist grandfather. He picks up Anna (gorgeous Ornella Muti) and her companion Marco (Andrea Prodan), a young man who has had a nervous breakdown. In the rearview mirror Ganz catches glimpses of Anna that can be best described as the explicit shot in "Basic Instinct"'s export version, but not as tasteless.
The relationship between Marco and Anna keeps shifting and is never explained. Odd too are her reactions to Vittorio who, unambiguously on the make, tries all sorts of erotic arousal tricks on Anna, notably a slide-show of women in the buff and at the toilet. This may sound obscene yet the fleeting pictures are of high photographic caliber and, though more frank, not as lewd as so much of today's suggestive advertising.
Episode Two is more fantasy than fact and in addition to Fellini-like touches has elements of Cocteau-ish magic and many sensuous ingredients as a near-passive Anna plays little games with Vittorio. In the surrealistic manner of Luis Bunuel (especially in "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"), the spacy, vague Marco continually frustrates Vittorio's attempts at seduction.
When Vittorio tells Anna that her eyes are beautiful, "I know, everyone tells me that" she replies. "But they are the most beautiful I have ever seen." "I know, everyone tells me that too." This is a nice in-joke. a cliché about Muti's legendary eyes, as famous abroad as Elizabeth Taylor's, but mostly unseen in the USA, except in the 1980 "Flash Gordon."
More kinkiness comes with Episode Three, "Snow on Fire," whose Italian title is the more precise "Snow on the Fire." In her solid film debut, Federico Fellini's 60-year old sister Maria Maddalena Fellini plays a peasant widow who confesses to her friendly (and a mite ambiguous) priest a bizarre case of voyeurism, her spying on her newlywed son and his bride as they make noisy love. The mother-in-law and the wife are aware of each other during the peeping, yet never refer to it. This potentially scabrous subject is endowed with much warmth and a sense of guilt, in both women. After the mother dies, the young woman misses her (as a person, not as an accomplice). Her guilt feelings finally go away when snow comes through the roof, blankets and "purifies" the late lady's room.
With its Felliniesque aspects, now devious now obvious, the movie comes partly as a tribute to that master. Ennio Morricone's score reinforces this by imitating the music of Nino Rota (Fellini's main composer), mixed in with generic Italian film music and, at the end, with a return to Morricone's own, distinctive style in films like Bernardo Bertolucci's "1900."
The movie was released in Italy in October 1991 with a fourth episode that was cut out of the belated US release print. It featured a young man going around the beaches of Rimini and obsessively looking at the flesh of bathers. Then, in another Felliniesque twist, comes an apparition of three wooden churches.
Why this segment was deleted I cannot tell. Except for a scene now and then, the other three parts do not affect you much emotionally or intellectually, but they are original and unusual in subject-matter and in their mix of strong visual appeal and Freudian bizareness.
The film came to this country slowly and left rapidly. It is not on video,but when and if it shows up in that format or on cable, it is a minor must-see.